Category Archives: Jail

Jail: A Good Place to Die

Wrongful Deaths in Prison

 A new report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics finds more than 200 people have died by suicide in Washington and Oregon jails since 2000. This puts the Northwest states above the national average for jail suicides, according to

From 2000 to 2019, the average rate of suicide in jails nationally was 43 per 100,000 inmates. By contrast, Oregon’s jail suicide rate during that same time period was 48 per 100,000. In Washington it was 57 per 100,000.

In Oregon, the study found, the jail suicide rate leapt up to 70 per 100,000 from 2015 to 2019. Washington logged its highest rate, 79 per 100,000, during the 2010 to 2014 timeframe.

Among Western states, Arizona and California reported the lowest rates of jail suicides during the same time period.

Nationally, suicide accounted for 24 percent to 35 percent of deaths in local jails between 2001 and 2019, the report said. In 2019, nearly 30 percent of U.S. jail deaths were due to suicide. The peak came in 2015 when the suicide rate in U.S. jails reached 52 per 100,000 inmates. But overall, the national rate of suicide in jails was mostly unchanged in 2019 as compared to 2000.

Here are some other findings:

  • Nationwide, white inmates were five times more likely to die by suicide in jail than Black inmates, and 3.5 times more likely than Hispanic inmates.
  • Most jail suicides happened within the first 30 days of a person being behind bars.
  • Hanging or strangulation was the most common manner of death.
  • Nearly 77 percent of the people who died by suicide in U.S. jails had not been convicted. Jails are the entry point to the criminal justice system and often hold individuals who are awaiting trial.

The quality of health care in jails can also vary greatly despite the fact jails house some of the most complex and vulnerable people in society, including those with acute mental health and substance use disorders.

In Oregon, jails must adhere to a set of statewide standards and are subject to outside inspection. By contrast, Washington jails are required to develop their own standards to ensure the health, welfare and safety of inmates.

This year, Washington enacted a law that requires jail officials to conduct a fatality review anytime a person in custody dies unexpectedly. Those reviews must be completed within 120 days and be posted to a public website maintained by the state Department of Health.

My opinion? Jail is a dangerous place. Please read my Legal Guides titled, Quash Your Bench Warrant and Making Bail and  contact my office if your friends or family are jailed. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Another Jail Outbreak

Cut COVID-19 risks NC jails and prisons | Raleigh News & Observer

Great article by Stacia Glenn of the News Tribune discusses how a COVID-19 outbreak in Pierce County Jail has up to 35 inmates testing positive.

The outbreak means the jail will only allow people arrested on suspicion of violent crimes to be booked. That includes murder, manslaughter, first-degree assault, rape, child molestation, kidnapping, child assault, domestic violence and possessing explosive devices.

Pierce County jail staff medically screens every person before they are booked. Inmates are provided with masks and given daily screenings and temperature checks, according to the jail’s website. And apparently, all three vaccines are also offered at the jail’s health clinic.

Ms. Glenn reports that since the pandemic started through June 2021, at least 398,627 people in prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project. However, Ms. Glenn also reports that number is believed to be less than accurate. Most recently, there are approximately 6,254 positive tests for inmates in Washington state.

Prisons and jails frequently suffer from overcrowding. Even in the best of times they are, by definition, facilities where people are placed in close contact with each other on a near-constant basis. Factor in the unique health challenges faced by incarcerated people and the limited availability of quality healthcare, and it’s no surprise that correctional facilities are uniquely vulnerable to diseases such as Covid-19.

Correctional administrators have limited control over how long people spend incarcerated, but they can use what authority they possess to release people outright or direct people to less restrictive forms of confinement. They can also ease conditions of confinement and increase access to health products. Some correctional authorities have already begun this work.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, and particularly its incarcerated populations, government actors have turned their attention to vaccine distribution as the solution to this health crisis. Though some states have explicitly included incarcerated individuals in their vaccination plans, many have not yet provided information as to how and when those behind bars will be granted access to this protection.

Please review my Legal Guide titled Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and charged with a crime during this COVID-19 Pandemic. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the best step toward justice. Nowadays, it may save your life.

COVID-19 Outbreak At Jail

Justicia fights for COVID-19 protections for people who are incarcerated - Furman News

Reporter David Rasbach from the Bellingham Herald reports the Whatcom County Jail in downtown Bellingham has seen a COVID-19 outbreak the past few days. The present outbreak has spread to 10 corrections deputies and one person housed at the jail.

Rasbach reports that since late in 2020, all corrections deputies at the jail have been tested for COVID weekly. One of the deputies tested positive on Saturday, Aug. 14.

“Over the following three days, additional corrections deputies tested positive during their weekly screening,” said Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Deb Slater. “We began working with the Whatcom County Health Department to track down the source of the infection.

Apparently, several corrections deputies contracted COVID while booking an individual who was uncooperative. This individual refused to answer any health-related questions or take a rapid COVID-19 test and demonstrated uncontrolled behavior during the booking process.

The sheriff’s office’s Corrections Bureau has since increased its rapid testing of deputies to daily, and additional personal protective equipment protocols have been put in place, according to Slater.

In January, the Work Center had an outbreak that affected 37 people, leading to some of the testing protocols now in place at the jail.

My opinion? A jail sentence should not become a death sentence. And yet our jails and prisons are filled with people with preexisting medical conditions that put them a heightened risk for complications from COVID-19. Our jails and prisons house large numbers of people with chronic diseases and complex medical needs who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, jails cut their populations by as much as 30%, helping to protect many of these people. But states and counties abandoned their efforts to keep jail populations low as the pandemic wore on.

Please review my Legal Guide titled Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and charged with a crime during this COVID-19 Pandemic. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the best step toward justice. Nowadays, it may save your life.

U.S. Prison Trends

Mass Incarceration, Then and Now | The New Yorker

The Sentencing Project devised a fact sheet which provides a compilation of major developments in the criminal justice system over the past several decades. Some highlights are as follows:

  • Mass Incarceration – The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last forty years.
  • Drug Policy – At the federal level, people incarcerated on a drug conviction make up nearly half the prison population. At the state level, the number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased nine-fold since 1980, although it has begun declining in recent years.
  • Racial Disparities – Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Latinos are 2.5 times as likely. For Black men in their thirties, about 1 in every 12 is in prison or jail on any given day.
  • Youth – Although youth detention populations are declining, youth of
    color enter the system much more frequently than white youth and are more likely to be sentenced to harsher terms of punishment. In addition, young people are transferred to the adult system each year and tried as if they were adults, and many are sent to adult prisons and jails to serve their sentences.
  • Felony Disenfranchisement – As of 2020, 5.2 million Americans were unable to vote due to state felony disenfranchisement policies.
  • Life Sentences – The number of people serving life sentences endures even while serious, violent crime has been declining for the past 20 years. This population has nearly quintupled since 1984. One in seven people in prison are serving life with parole, life without parole, or virtual life (50 years or more).

The Sentencing Project is a non-profit agency that promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prison Inmates Retaliated Against for Getting COVID-19

Image result for jail inmates getting covid

Excellent article by Lilly Fowler of Crosscut reports that prisoners, attorneys and other advocates said the WA Department of Corrections has not only been careless with protocols meant to keep COVID-19 cases in check, but has also lashed out at those who become ill.

They accuse the department of stigmatizing those who become sick with the virus, even as cases skyrocket in prisons and work release facilities across the state. Critics blame the department’s lack of an organized response for the rapid spread of the virus.

Apparently, the Office of the Corrections Ombuds, the state’s watchdog, has already found fault with the Department of Corrections’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Central Washington. Two people there died in June, and more than 300 prisoners and 100 staff have been infected. Coyote Ridge houses approximately 2,500 inmates.

In a report about the COVID-19 outbreak at Coyote Ridge, investigators said that in addition to guards not wearing masks and failing to isolate symptomatic prisoners, inmates had delayed reporting symptoms because they feared harsh conditions in solitary confinement. The two prisoners who died had waited days to report difficulty breathing, according to the investigation.

That same summer, families of prisoners accused the Department of Corrections of retaliating against six men who contracted the virus and were housed at Reynolds Work Release in downtown Seattle. Similar to other inmates at the Bishop Lewis Work Release facility, the so-called Reynolds six were sent back to prison. Although they were eventually released, the men had been singled out in part because they are Black, Muslim or Indigenous, their families said.

According to reporter Lilly Fowler, critics say the situation at Bishop Lewis shows that the Department of Corrections’ response to the pandemic isn’t improving even nearly a year into the public health emergency. Instead, the same patterns are emerging. They argue it’s time for Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider doing more to reduce the prison population, or at the very least ensure those who become ill and speak up aren’t retaliated against.

My opinion? The Coronavirus Pandemic has threatened to turn jail sentences into death sentences. Therefore, anyone involved in the criminal justice system should do their very best to avoid jails and prisons. Convicted defendants who are sentenced to jail should seek jail alternatives. And anyone who is in jail facing criminal charges who can make bail should make bail, or at least get bail lowered to an affordable amount.

Please review my Legal Guide titled Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Jail Phone Calls

SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky jails scrutinized for recording attorney-inmate phone calls | In-depth | wdrb.com

My clients in jail often ask me whether their phone calls from jail are recorded by the jail staff. In short, yes, they are. A recent case gives helpful insight to this  issues.

In  State v. Koeller, the WA Court of Appeals held that a jail inmate’s phone call with counsel that was recorded and was accessed by a deputy prosecuting attorney (DPA) did not establish a basis for dismissal of charges.  The DPA was the only person who accessed the 15-minute long call, and he stopped listening to the call after 8 seconds when he recognized defense counsel’s voice.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The defendant Mr. Koeller was alleged to have sexually abused his stepdaughter for years. The State also alleged aggravating circumstances of domestic violence and of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse.

The Island County jail records incoming and outgoing phone calls, except for calls from attorneys. On October 11, 2017, Defense Counsel Mr. Platt provided his cell phone number to the Island County jail so the automated recording system would not record any calls made between him and the defendant Mr. Koeller. The jail failed to do so.

The next day, Island County chief criminal deputy prosecutor (Prosecutor) checked the automated recording system and saw Koeller made an outgoing, 15-minute phone call that day. Prosecutor began playing the call and heard Defense Counsel’s voice, so he shut off the recording. Prosecutor heard only eight seconds of the phone call. He immediately told Defense Counsel about the recording and told the jail to register Defense Counsel’s phone number because it had failed to shield Platt from being recorded.

On March 26, 2019, about one week before the scheduled start of trial, Koeller filed a CrR 8.3(b) motion to dismiss as a result of the recording. The court denied the motion. In its ruling, the court found no one else “in connection with the State of Washington listened to the conversation.”

At trial, Koeller was convicted of multiple charges, including first degree child molestation. He appealed on arguments that the trial court mistakenly denied his Motion to Dismiss.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to confer privately with Defense Counsel. Where the government violates this right, it creates a rebuttable presumption of prejudice to the defendant.

Here, however, Prosecutor heard only eight seconds of the call between Koeller and Defense Counsel. He heard no substance of the conversation and no one else in connection to the Prosecutor’s Office listened to the conversation. The State did not obtain any information material to the defense.

“Although Koeller argues the court abused its discretion because the State did not prove Chief Briones did not listen to the call, the trial court found otherwise, and its finding is supported by substantial evidence. Because the court’s findings support its conclusion that Koeller was not prejudiced, the court did not abuse its discretion by denying the CrR 8.3(b) motion to dismiss.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Nearly 1,000 Inmates To Be Released In Washington State

Virginia begins releasing new data about COVID-19 in prisons

Apparently, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Washington state intends to release up to 950 inmates confined in Washington state prisons — a reduction of about 6 percent, based on 2019 inmate numbers — to stop a potential widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in the prison.

Inslee and the Washington State Department of Corrections released their emergency plan to keep inmates safe from COVID-19 on Monday, after a back-and-forth of lawsuit responses between the state and Columbia Legal Services.

Columbia Legal Services had filed a petition in April, with the Washington Supreme Court on behalf of incarcerated petitioners. It called for the prompt release of thousands of prisoners to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 behind bars.

As of April 10, 2020, the department has tested 237 inmates and has had 179 negative results, 8 positive results. Fifty test results are pending. According to the department of corrections, the people tested have been isolated. As of April 10, 161 inmates remain in isolation. Another 912 others are in quarantine.

Jaime Hawk, of the ACLU’s Washington Campaign for Smart Justice, called the plan a helpful first step, but said it doesn’t remove the dangers of Covid-19 for incarcerated people in Washington state.

“We urge the governor and the Department of Corrections to do more to reduce state prison populations, which is the only way to follow the advice of public health experts and keep those living and working in our correctional facilities safe.”  ~Jaime Hawk, ACLU

The state’s plan will target people for release who are:

• Non-violent inmates, both vulnerable and non-vulnerable, who have a release date within 75 days.

• Non-violent inmates and vulnerable inmates who have a release date in 2 to 6 months. They will be released through a re-entry planning process.

• Non-violent inmates and vulnerable inmates who have a release date in 6 to 8 months, with an approved release plan.

• Non-violent inmates who were jailed for lower level supervision violations

• Non-violent inmates who are already on work release and can be freed through the secretary’s furlough authority.

Please read my Legal Guides titled Making Bail and Quash Your Bench Warrant and contact my office if you, a friend of family member find themselves stuck in jail or prison during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Jail Populations Are At Risk For Spreading CV-19

The 5 Worst Prisons On Earth: Step Inside A Living Hell

Great article by Anna Flagg and Joseph Neff of the Marshall Project says describes how jail populations are potentially risky environments for transmitting COVID-19.

For jails across the country, the churn of people moving in and out threatens to accelerate the spread of the disease, endangering the incarcerated, the staff and the larger community.

Analysis of a database of county- and jurisdiction-level jail populations built by the Vera Institute of Justice shows the short-term flow of people through local facilities, including some who were admitted more than once, for an average week in 2017 (the most recent year with available data). Apparently, in a given week, more than 200,000 people are booked into jails across the country; roughly the same number walk out every week.

Thankfully – and according to the article – some states and jurisdictions have responded by releasing prisoners or cutting jail time.

“Jails are transient,” say the authors. “Most there have been charged with crimes but not convicted. Many are waiting to pay bail to be released until trial or can’t afford bail. The rest have misdemeanor convictions with sentences counted in months instead of years.”

Preventing the spread of the virus in jails is challenging. Social distancing is crucial, but it’s virtually impossible in dormitories with rows of beds in a common room. The same is true of two people in a single cell, or group showers or bathrooms that serve dozens. All these dangers escalate when jails are overcrowdedfilthy or understaffed.

Making matters worse, physical contact between staff and the incarcerated is often unavoidable: Officers fingerprint, handcuff and supervise prisoners, as well as escort them to court and drive them to medical appointments. Many other people also flow in and out of jails, like family members who visit; volunteers who counsel or teach or preach; contractors who stock vending machines; and lawyers who meet their clients. Many jails have cut much of that traffic in response to coronavirus by limiting visits, services and vendors, and by moving to online and phone communication.

The authors say that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Correctional Association and other groups offer guidance for corrections departments on containing the virus: Start frequent temperature screenings; take oral medical histories; limit visitors and vendors; increase cleaning; restrict movement; create spaces for isolating; coordinate with health providers; and plan for possible staff shortages.

The authors also suggest “de-densifying” our jails by reducing bookings and accelerating releases, something over which sheriffs have limited control.

My opinion? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps persuading judges to set low bond amounts and minimal conditions of pretrial release is a good starting point. Police officers can be persuaded to make mindful decisions when they decide whether to arrest and book a person into jail, or issue a citation with a court date. For the most part, it’s advisable that police officers simply write citations for misdemeanors except for drunken driving and domestic violence charges.

Please read my Legal Guides titles, Making Bail and Quash Your Bench Warrant and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and incarcerated during this time of CV-19 outbreaks. And hiring an experienced, effective attorney is the best step toward making that happen. Getting out of jail is a huge priority.

Justice for the Jailed

Image result for d defendants incarcerated coronavirus

Great Op-ed article in the Seattle Times written by public defender Brandon Davis describes the challenges of getting justice for jailed defendants in the age of Coronavirus.

Mr. Davis poignantly says that given the scope of this crisis, it is inevitable that the virus will spread in King county’s two jails, where an estimated 2,000 people are currently housed. He says that even the simple act of handcuffing adds a risk — you can’t cover your mouth if you cough while your hands are tied behind your back. Additionally, Mr. Davis potently describes how the shadow cast by CV-19 detrimentally affects his ability to access numerous professionals involved in the justice system:

“I can’t visit my clients in jail without putting myself at risk. I can’t do site visits and interview witnesses. I can’t ask our social workers to meet with clients and put together treatment plans. I can’t negotiate with prosecutors in-person — it’s difficult to even get them on the phone.”

Mr. Davis points out that jury trials are suspended until April 24, and it is possible the suspension will last much longer. And once trials resume, there will be a massive backlog.

“The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a speedy trial, but because of the coronavirus, those who are being held on bond amounts they cannot afford are looking at many more months in an unsafe jail. COVID-19 has ground the criminal legal system to a halt, which is understandable in a pandemic of this magnitude, but our clients in jail are the ones left suffering because of it,” says Mr. Davis.

He describes a story where, on a Saturday, he had to assist his clients in King County Jail.  Before the hearings began, all 20 or so defendants are crammed in “the tank,” which is a small holding cell. Mr. Davis and his colleagues had to enter the tank to talk to each and every one of the incarcerated defendants.

“The visuals could not be starker,” wrote Mr. Davis. “The judge and the prosecutor were at a safe remove, but public defenders were working side-by-side with our clients, all of us at risk. Public health concerns the whole public, and whether the court and the prosecutors would like to admit it, people in jail are part of the public, too.”

I salute Mr. Davis for sharing his insights and writing such a fantastic article. The Coronavirus pandemic is a terrible blight on our communities. It not only affects the contaminated, but people like Mr. Davis who try to help them, too.

Please read my Legal Guides titled, Making Bail and Quash Your Bench Warrant and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are presently incarcerated and want help getting released from jail. Under the circumstances, judges and prosecutors might be persuaded to release defendants or lower bail during this terribly volatile and troubling time.

Support Legislation Ending Felony Charges for Missing a Court Hearing

Image result for jumping bail

Did you know that a person who misses just one court hearing can be charged with Bail Jumping and be convicted of a new felony simply for missing that court hearing?

Fortunately, legislation proposed by WA Representative Mike Pellicciotti could possibly end this travesty.

THE PROBLEM

When the Legislature enacted the “Bail Jumping” statute, the intent wasn’t to criminalize every missed court date or failure to appear (FTA), rather lawmakers wanted to give the courts a tool to deter people charged with serious crimes from fleeing.

The legislature gave discretion to prosecutors to add a felony charge if someone “jumped bail.” Sadly, this prosecutorial discretion is being overused. The charge of “Bail Jumping” has now led to a long list of unintended consequences that disproportionately harm Washington’s low income and most marginalized citizens.

Research shows that most people charged with “Bail Jumping” were not intentionally avoiding court. Many had difficult life circumstances that made it hard or impossible to attend a court hearing on a particular day. They were not fleeing from the court, and they wanted to resolve their cases.

Research also shows that many people who miss court are experiencing difficulties with transportation, childcare, job disruption, homelessness, health problems, mental illness and other challenges related to poverty. Under current “bail jumping” laws, Washington disproportionally and unjustly allows for longer criminal sentences for people who are low-income or experiencing a crisis for the charge of “Bail Jumping” even though that was never the legislature’s intent.

THE SOLUTION

WA HB 2231 is legislation would would amend the current Bail Jump statute in two ways: (1) it makes bail jumping a misdemeanor, and (2) it requires the state to prove that a person received written notice of the court date that the person missed.

Here is a position paper about the bill. It is supported by the WDA, ACLU, WACDL, the Northwest Community Bail Fund and numerous other organizations.  This bill sponsored is by Mike Pellicciotti of the (Democratic Party). He is a member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 30-Position 1.

My opinion? This is great legislation.

Please contact my office if you face felony charges which include Bail Jumping. These charges are often used by prosecutors to coercively leverage a plea. Although there are substantive defenses to the charge, those who face barriers getting to court are frequently subject to this coercive manner of resolving cases that results in an unjust and disproportionate number of convictions for the most vulnerable.